Like the Waves on the Sea
That time of year had come upon them before he even realized, and with one look in the mirror, Captain Tuan had to sigh. The seas that had once been a brilliant, soft blue had turned harsh and cold as the season rapidly changed, a dampness lingering over the ship that shook his crew to the core. Only Anshu didn’t seem bothered, but then again Anshu rarely seemed affected by the weather no matter the month. The rest of his crew, however, were layering up with more clothes as the days drew darker. For himself, he had added another layer over his shoulders, a windswept cloak keeping them from frosting over in the cold.
However, this was not what he was concerned about. As Captain Tuan stood looking in the mirror above the basin within his quarters, his hand came up to clutch at his beard. Shearing Day was coming. The thought made him shiver, despite the lack of cold in his room.
“Maybe Neopia will have forgotten,” he mused, reaching for a comb to pull out any tangles his magnificent mane had gotten in the night. “After all, it’s not a rule we have to be sheared. It’s a tradition.” That made him pause. “…A tradition all Gnorbu’s take part in.”
Except him. It filled him with guilt.
He waved it off with the last stroke of his brush, however, grabbing his hat to tuck over his mane. There were a good lot of things he was proud of; his petpet ranch, his ship, his crewmates despite their differences. But the largest one was his beard. It had been growing for more seasons than he knew, each hair longer than the last, and it shone under the sunlight like the waves on the sea. It kept him warm in the winter winds, a sign of all he had endured. To shear it off was just madness, to say.
However, guilt filled him once again at the thought. Shearing was a tradition. One he kept disregarding.
His face must have showed his worry, for when he finally emerged on deck, Linae gave him a look.
“Captain, you’re up a little late,” she said from where she stood with a broom, a slight layer of snow coating the deck of his ship. Snow was still falling, the small snowflakes melting as soon as they hit a surface, but enough had built up to leave the decks wet and slippery. Thankfully his boots were heavy enough to keep him stable.
“Ah, Linae,” he nodded to her. “Good morning. How are the seas?”
He saw her brow arch, clearly noting he did not answer her observation, but she let it go as she looked out to the dark waters. “They’re rolling, like always. Shouldn’t give up much trouble. This snow, however,” she shook her wet hands, her fur starting to grow damp from the moisture. “I doubt I’ll be dry for weeks.”
Tuan had to chuckle at that. “I’m sure we’ll dry off tonight.”
She didn’t seem to sure, her ear flicking as a snowflake hit it, but her eyes focused back on him. “What about you, Captain? Are you feeling alright?”
He tried to keep a neutral face. His mind was still turning over his guilt like the sea. “Of course I am. Now, I should take the wheel from Hoban…”
“You look troubled, Captain,” Linae pointed out. He paused, though his back was now to her. “Is everything alright?”
Before he could answer, he heard the stomping of boots on the wooden floors. Kentari had come from the bow of the ship, his body wrapped in clothes and furs, and Tuan smiled slightly. Kentari never was one who enjoyed snowy weather.
“Linae, I need the broom,” he started, not noticing Tuan at first. “The top deck is becoming…” He paused, noticing his Captain finally, and he gave a swift salute. “Morning Captain! I hope you’re well this morning!”
“Kentari,” Tuan smiled. He was about to ask him how he was doing when Linae cut in, shoving her broom toward Kentari.
“Does the Captain look fine to you?”
Kentari frowned deeply, his eyes immediately going to him, and Tuan struggled not to roll his eyes, His brows did crease without him knowing, however.
“Linae, I’m fine.”
“Is the cold bothering you, Captain?” Kentari asked, now as concerned as Linae. This wasn’t going well for him. Tuan only sighed, trying to downplay their fears.
“I’m fine. I’m as fit as a-” Right as he reached up, there was a distinct popping noise. In his haste to comb his beard and fret over the Shearing festival, he had neglected to stretch that morning. The sound of his joints moving did not help his cause, and both Linae and Kentari stared at him, alert to every sound he made. Great, Tuan sighed. He decided not to even address it. “I’m going to take the wheel.”
“Captain, are you alright?”
“That didn’t sound good, Captain!”
They followed him as he made his way up the stairs, alerting Hoban, whose ears pricked at the sound of his heavy boots on the worn boards. He took no heed of the two, moving instead to his navigator whose head was nearly hidden by the scarves wrapped around it.
“Hoban, I’ll take the wheel.”
“Yes, Captain,” he said. “Good morning Captain.”
He grunted in response, trying to ignore Linae and Kentari, who swarmed to his side. He was having a tough enough morning without his crew fluttering around him. This was something he needed to think over himself.
“Captain, are you alright?” the questions came one again. He said nothing, his eyes set ahead, and he turned the wheel, steering them against the waves. The Cyodrake’s Gaze crashed against them, sending salt and spray into the chilly air.
“This is your fault that the Captain is unwell, Kentari,” Linae started, giving the Shoyru an accusatory eye. Kentari balked. “All those crates of weapons from Tyrannia has clearly taken their toll on the Captain!”
“I’m fine,” Tuan reminded them. They didn’t seem to hear.
“Me?” Kentari sputtered. “You kept the Captain up all night playing Kou-Jong! He’s probably stiff from sitting so long due to you begging for games until midnight!”
“Captain, you’re hurt?” Hoban asked, looking up to him in shock. Tuan tried not to let his lip twitch.
“Clearly, you’re not!” Linae stated, crossing her arms as she shot him a glance. She barely even looked at him! “You look weary! And stressed!”
He almost made a biting comment to that. Almost. But the Captain of the ship did not get into petty disputes. He had to remain strong, and he set his focus forward on the dark sea in front of him, steering them across the waves. For a moment, he felt a westerly wind come and blow in his face, his mighty mane flowing with the movement. He probably looked very regal and strong in that moment, despite the turmoil in his head.
It was lost on his three crew members, however, their focus more on squabbling.
“Hoban, you should be at the helm so the Captain can rest!”
Hoban frowned deeply. “He doesn’t look ill…”
“Hoban, this is our Captain! His health is top priority! Are you refusing that!”
A shade of red went over Hoban’s nose. “Of course not!”
“Then, take the helm!” Linae demanded. This had gone on enough, Tuan decided, finally listening to their conversation. How meddlesome.
He moved to speak, but it was once again interrupted by another’s voice.
“What’s all this arguing about?”
All eyes went to Anshu, who was ascending the stairs. Captain Tuan sighed, clearing his voice to speak and greet their doctor, when Linae went forward.
“Anshu, the Captain’s sick!”
“He’s sick?” Anshu said, looking to Tuan in surprise. Tuan scowled.
“Linae kept him up playing Kou-Jong,” Kentari said. That made her gasp, turning on her heel in anger.
“I did not! You hurt him with all your crates of weapons!” she accused right back. “Or maybe it was Hoban! You’re always going off to go sleep!”
Kentari turned at that. “Yes! You are! You always leave our Captain at the helm!”
“I-I do not!”
“What’s going on?” Orrin’s voice came, his glasses being adjusted as he came to see what the noise was about as well. Captain Tuan only pressed his mouth thin. Was his entire crew to come up now over false accusations? This was his internal battle, not all of theirs.
“I. Am. Fine,” he reminded them all. No one seemed to be listening.
“It has been cold lately,” Anshu observed. “This is the time when the Neoflu hits.”
“Maybe he got that from you, Linae,” Hoban snapped. She glared at him enough that he shrank back.
“I did not!”
“I’m not sick!” Tuan said louder.
“You should be resting, Captain!”
“Captain, tell Linae she’s wrong!”
“Captain, I didn’t do this to you did I?”
“Captain,” the voices all seemed to say. “Captain!”
“Enough!” Tuan finally yelled, his voice bellowing out above them all finally causing his crew to grow silent. All save for Shumi, who darted out from down below, looking around. He ignored it. “I am not sick! And if I say I am not sick, you will take my word because my word is what you follow!”
None of them seemed satisfied by that answer, but Kentari looked away in shame.
“Is that clear?” Tuan demanded. Orrin was the first to speak.
“Yes, Captain,” Kentari followed. Hoban stepped up next.
“Yes, Captain, I’m sorry,” Linae said, though she looked worried. That didn’t set him at ease. But it was enough for then. He rolled his shoulders, taking the helm once again, and he stared ahead, inhaling the salt breeze.
And yet, he faltered. His love for adventure was being clouded at the moment as he was once again pulled into his thoughts on himself. Tradition versus his pride. Which was better? He did love traditions, such as celebrating and eating, but this one he was not sold on. He couldn’t be the only Gnorbu who didn’t partake in the shearing, was he? It troubled him, how he wasn’t sure what he really wanted. He felt like he was betraying his species. Here he was, a magnificent beard upon him, yet he would not cut it for Shearing Day. Did that make him one of the many in this new year, or one of the few? His thoughts were troubled by this.
It was then that Anshu came forward, the only one who didn’t say anything during his order. He was studying him, his eyes narrowing, and Tuan found him looking at him.
He stroked his beard, but didn’t address him. “Kentari,” he suddenly said. “What day is it?”
“Uh,” Kentari frowned, then he began counting in his head. “Why, it’s the second. Of the new year.” That made his brows knit together. “Huh. Aisha day is tomorrow, isn’t it?”
Hoban looked up at the mention of his species. He started to nod. “Yeah, it is. Which means-”
Anshu cut him off. “Shearing Day is coming too, isn’t it?”
Captain Tuan said nothing, but his eyes remained forward, unblinking as his grip tightened on the wheel. He felt his crew all look to him, but he didn’t react. A captain must be strong, yet Anshu took note.
“That is why you are troubled, isn’t it Captain?”
Tuan’s cheek twitched.
“You’re contemplating being Sheared, aren’t you?”
This would be when he’d laugh it off, or tell the lot of them to get to work. Instead, he looked away from them, pretending to be occupied with the sea. Of course, that would be what gave him away, but for a moment he had hoped his crew would get the sense to get back to their duties.
He nodded off the starboard bow. “The waves are getting bigger.” This observation, unfortunately, was ignored.
“Captain…” Linae said, staring at him, her maroon ears twitching. “Is… Is that why you look so worried?”
“No,” he mumbled, becoming sour now. “All of you should be working too. Get to it!”
Kentari smiled slightly. “Captain, that’s it, isn’t it? Shearing Day is coming. Which means your beard-”
“Get to work, you louts!” Tuan snapped, but his heart wasn’t in his words. He really wished Anshu hadn’t figured out the day. It only increased his anxiousness about his inability to make a decision. This troubled him even more. “Or… I’ll make you all scrub the deck until twilight!”
Orrin adjusted his glasses. “Captain, you know we won’t think anything less of you if you shave, right?” That got him a glare.
“Yeah, Captain,” Linae said, moving toward him. “You’ll always be our Captain, not matter what.”
“It’s not about that,” he snorted. “And you all need to get to work! Now!”
“You’re not really going to shave it, are you?” Hoban’s meek voice came from his side, and Tuan paused, slowly turning to look at him. Hoban seemed to immediately regret his words, rubbing the back of his neck, but he did seem concerned. “N-Not to say that you can’t. It’s just… well. I mean…”
Anshu caught Tuan’s gaze, his head raising. “You’re very proud of your mane, aren’t you Captain?” the old doctor said. When he didn’t reply, Anshu gave a slight nod. “How long has it been since you’ve partaken in the Shearing?”
Tuan didn’t look at him, but he did reply with a sigh. “A long time.”
“And yet now, you’re hesitating. Why?”
Why was the question, and Tuan looked past his crew to the sea once more. It rolled, chasing itself, turning dark against the sky as if it was in turmoil itself. It was untamed and wild, just like he had once been. Since he was a deckhand, he always was like the sea. No one could tell him what to do!
Now as Captain, and with Shenkuu open to all of Neopia, was that what he wanted to continue to be? Wild like the sea? They had gone to many lands now and had seen many other Neopians. From the kind Faeries in Faerieland, to the fun Blumaroos of Roo Island. Had he gotten so used to his tradition of resisting tradition that it now filled him with guilt?
It was Anshu that brought him back. “Change is a scary thing,” he started, and all of the crew looked to him, Tuan included. Linae spoke up first.
“Are you saying our Captain is scared?”
Anshu sighed, looking to the young girl. “I never said that,” he pointed out. “All I am saying is that change is scary. Look how long we did not interact with the rest of the world because we were afraid it would change us. But no matter what, we are still the same. Only wiser.” He gave a pause. “Well, maybe some of us…”
“Was that directed at me?” Linae snapped. Anshu sighed, shaking his head for a moment at the hot-headed girl, before he looked to his Captain.
“Despite that, like I have said, no matter what, we still are the same,” he said once more. “My Captain, what do you think is best for you?”
Tuan frowned. He really didn’t know at that moment, though he did scratch his beard, his fingers lingering on the silky hairs. He was content as he was right then, but would that always be so? What if he did join in the festivals around Neopia and got sheared like the rest of his kind? Would that be so bad? He took a look at his beard once more, how it mimicked the sea around them.
“Change is good,” he agreed. “It’s opened up a lot more friends and sights in the world for us.” He couldn’t help but stroke his beard. “But yet… it is scary. And troublesome at times.” He let out a sigh, his hands gripping the wheel of the helm a little hard. “Much like the sea. We don’t know tomorrow, if it will be rough or smooth sailing. We can only guess. Which is where the fear comes in.”
Anshu gave a nod.
“Captain,” Shumi said, finally moving up the stairs to be on the deck with the rest of them. Tuan looked to the young deckhand, who had to push his hat up so he could see them all, the clothing much too big for him. “No matter what you do, we’ll be here for you.”
“Y-Yeah,” Hoban suddenly said. “Yeah, we will!”
“Yeah, Captain,” Linae said, enthused. “We’ll always be by your side, no matter what you do! We’ll help you out!”
“I have a pair of shears,” Orrin said nonchalantly, and Tuan couldn’t help but glare at him, making him sweat a little. “Which… we don’t have to use. I’m just saying.”
“If you want to do it, we’ll be here with you. And if not, we’ll still be here with you,” Kentari said. “Your decision is our decision.”
“Yeah!” Linae said again, and for once, his troubles faded a bit, Tuan’s eyes going to Anshu who only smiled slightly to him. “Come Shearing Day, Captain, we’ll be with you!”
“We’ll even let you sleep in a little,” Kentari smirked. Tuan had to chuckle at that.
Tradition or pride? No, familiarity? Whichever one he chose, it would be his to do, and Tuan gave one last inhale of the sea air, his eyes moving to the sails which fluttered in the wind. The morning was breaking, the dull grey skies above them starting to open to show bright, blue sky, and the snowflakes swept off the bow, flying over the deck to collect in the corners as a warm wind met them from the south.
Captain Tuan closed his eyes for a moment, his thick mane waving on his chest, the smell of southern, tropical islands beckoning them to come celebrate in their waters. He stayed like that for a moment, thinking about change, before his eyes snapped to. No matter his decision, he still had a job to do.
“What are you all still doing up here?” he barked at them. “Get down to your duties! We need to sail our ship, not let it float like a Bubble Mote! Kentari! Up the mainmast! Steer our course to the south! And Shumi, up to the gaff! I want us to make good headway this time!”
“Y-Yes’sir!” the voices soon came, and Linae smirked, jumping over the balcony.
“I’ll secure the try pots! Orrin, come help!”
“Alright, alright,” Orrin, sighed, adjusting his glasses once more. Anshu raised his head to Tuan, a smile still on his lips, and Tuan sighed.
“Go help the others,” he said. “…But Anshu?”
Anshu only bowed, moving steadily to join the others, and Hoban looked to his Captain, the only one left.
“Do you want me to take the helm?”
“In a moment, Hoban,” Tuan said. He was getting a bit stiff. He needed to go stretch before surveying the crew. “But Hoban?”
“Steer us a course for the nearest set of land,” he said, giving him a smile. “We need to dock and get food to celebrate Aisha Day.”
Hoban blinked. “Really, sir?”
“Well, if we make fast headway.”
“Oh, we will!” Hoban saluted. “I guarantee it!”
Tuan only smiled. “Then take us to land, Hoban. Where things always change for the good.”